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CD reviews

Italian instrumental music of the 17th century

[I] "La Suave Melodia - Musique instrumentale de l'Italie du XVIIème siècle"
Les Timbres; Harmonia Lenis
rec: August 2014, Montvalezan
Flora - 3415 (68'07")
Liner-notes: E/F/Jap
Cover & track-list

Giovanni Battista BUONAMENTE (?-1642): Gagliarda IV [7]; Sinfonia II [7]; Dario CASTELLO (fl 1st half 17th C): Sonata V [4]; Sonata XII [8]; Giovanni Martino CESARE (c1590-1667): La Gioia [5]; Giovanni Paolo CIMA (c1570-1630): Sonate à 2, Violino e Violone [1]; Sonata à 3 [1]; Andrea FALCONIERI (1585/86-1656): Brando dicho el Melo [11]; Folias echa para mi Señora Doña Tarolilla de Carallenos [11]; L'Eroica [11]; La Suave Melodia [11]; Giovanni GABRIELI (c1554/57-1612): Canzon II ab; Sonata XXI con tre violini (C 214) [3]; Agostino GUERRIERI (fl mid-17th C): La Viviani [12]; Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665): La Cattarina [9]; Giovanni Battista RICCIO (fl 1609-1621): Canzon a doi soprani in echo [2]; Francesco TURINI (c1589-1656): Sonata a due canti [6]; Marco UCCELLINI (c1603/1610-1680): Sonata II a violino solo detta La Luciminia contenta [10]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Paolo Cima, Concerti ecclesiastici, 1610; [2] Giovanni Battista Riccio, Il secondo libro delle divine lodi musici, 1614; [3] Giovanni Gabrieli, Canzone et sonate, 1615; [4] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro I, 1621; [5] Giovanni Martino Cesare, Musicali melodie, 1621; [6] Francesco Turini, Madrigali, sonate à due, & à tre, libro I, 1621; [7] Giovanni Battista Buonamente, Il quarto libro de varie sonate, 1626; [8] Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno, libro II, 1629; [9] Tarquinio Merula, Canzoni overo Sonate concertate per chiesa e camera, 1637; [10] Marco Uccellini, Sonate, correnti et arie da camera e chiesa, op. 4, 1645; [11] Andrea Falconieri, Il primo libro de canzone, sinfonie, fantasie, 1650; [12] Agostino Guerrieri, Sonate di violino, op. 1, 1673

[LT] Yoko Kawakubo, violin; Myriam Rignol, viola da gamba; Julien Wolfs, harpsichorda, organ
[HL] Kenichi Mizuuchi, recorder; Akemi Murakami, harpsichordb, organ

[II] Bartolomé DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (c1580 - after 1638): "Orfeo Celeste"
La Reverencia
Dir: Andrés Alberto Gómez
rec: July 2010, Chinchilla (Albacete), chapel of San Antonio Abad; Liétor (Albacete), Iglesia de Santiago Apóstola
Vanitas - VA-01 (© 2011) (*) (62'56")
Liner-notes: E/F/S
Cover & track-list

Luzzasco LUZZASCHI (c1545-1607): Toccata del 4° tuonoa; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Intrada; Bartolomé DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE: Canzona I a 1; Canzona I a 2; Canzona I a 4; Canzona II a 1; Canzona II a 2; Canzona III a 1; Canzona III a 4; Canzona IV a 2; Canzona V in 3; Canzona VI a 3; Canzona X a 2; Corente II a 3; Corente II a 4; Corente VII a 3; Fantasía (I) per basso solo; Vestiva i colli passeggiato a 2

Source: Bartolomé de Selma y Salaverde, Canzoni fantasie et correnti da suonar, 1638

Manuel Pascual, cornett; Pavel Amilcar, violin; Jorge Miró, Thor Jorgen, viola da gamba; Pablo Zapico, archlute, guitar; Pedro Jesús Gómez, theorbo, guitar; Laura Puerto, harpsichord, organ; Andrés Alberto Gómez, harpsichord, organ (soloa); Miguel Ángel Orero, tambor, pandero, pandereta

The early decades of the 17th century were an exciting time, especially in Italy. In 1600 the first operas were performed, composers started to write music for solo voices in a declamatory style in which the text was at the centre and the music served as a way to express the affetti they epitomized. This also affected instrumental music: composers translated the principles of the new vocal style to the instruments of their time, especially the violin and the cornett. In the 16th century instruments played a minor role, either supporting or replacing voices in sacred music, but now instrumental music was given a much more important place in the musical landscape. The many collections of instrumental music which were printed in those days or circulated in manuscript bear witness to that.

The title of the two collections which Dario Castello published in 1621 and 1629 respectively reveals the nature of the new instrumental music: Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti. The word concertate refers to the independency of the instrumental parts which comes especially to the fore in the solo episodes. The word moderno indicates that Castello wanted to move away from the tradition which was embodied in the most common form of instrumental music of the stile antico, the canzona which was derived from vocal models (chanson) and was dominated by counterpoint. The mention of organ and spinet - the latter word can be interpreted as a stringed keyboard instrument in general - refers to the basso continuo which was the foundation of every piece for an instrumental ensemble. Lastly, the use of the words 'diverse instruments' shows that the choice of instruments was - at least partly - left to the interpreters.

The programmes of the two discs to be reviewed here show that not everything was what it looked like. They include a number of sonatas - the most common form of 'modern' music. But Les Timbres and Harmonia Lenis also play pieces with titles like sinfonia and canzona or gagliarda. La Reverencia recorded a disc with music by Bartolome de Selma y Salaverde and his only collection of music which has come down to us includes no sonatas but canzonas, correnti, fantasias, balletti and some other pieces. That seems to indicate a reverence to the past but that is not the case. The canzonas by Salaverde are not fundamentally different from the sonatas which appear on the first disc, and the same goes for his correnti. They also include instrumental virtuosity and bear the traces of the stylus phantasticus one of whose features was a sequence of sections which contrast in character, tempo and metre.

Les Timbres and Harmonia Lenis have included pieces by Andrea Falconieri which represent a specific genre: descriptive music. The best-known representative of this genre was Carlo Farina with his Capriccio stravagante. Titles which include the word detta (known as) appear frequently in collections of instrumental music until the end of the 17th century. Such titles are mostly impossible to unriddle by modern interpreters. The Salaverde disc includes a piece which represents another specific genre known in Italian as passaggi: diminutions over one part of a polyphonic vocal work, for instance a motet by Palestrina or a madrigal by Rore. This genre emerged in the late 16th century and disseminated across Europe. It was the first form of instrumental virtuosity in history.

As I have already stated composers often left it to the performers to choose the instruments. In some cases they indicated expressis verbis which instrument to use. Such indications frequently appear in the sonatas by Castello. His Sonata XII à 3 has the addition 2 soprani e trombone. The soprani can refer to any instrument but considering that Castello lived and worked in Venice it is very likely that violin and cornett are the preferred instruments here. Les Timbres and Harmonia Lenis perform this sonata with recorder and violin in the upper parts whereas the viola da gamba takes the trombone part. It is a matter of debate to what extent one should take those scoring indications literally: are they prescriptive or merely meant as a suggestion? In the liner-notes to the Flora disc it is argued that the recorder is mentioned in collections and single compositions of the time, for instance some canzonas by Giovanni Battista Riccio. That was probably the reason the performers selected his Canzon a doi soprani in echo. But the echo causes a problem: as only one violin is used the echo has to be played at the treble viol. Apart from the fact that it is a bit odd to use a different instrument for the echo, as far as I know the treble viol was only used as part of a consort in the 16th century but did not play any solo role in 17th-century Italian music. This is also an issue in one of the oldest pieces in the programme: the Sonata XXI con tre violini by Giovanni Gabrieli. This is clearly intended for violins and only then its features come fully to the fore. This performance with recorder, violin and treble viol is rather unlucky, also because the recorder is too dominant in comparison to the other instruments.

That is a general problem in this recording: the recorder overpowers the violin, which is also due to the restrained playing of Yoko Kawakubo. The basso continuo is often played with two keyboard instruments which in music of this scoring seems rather exaggerated. Despite these issues I have enjoyed this disc. The repertoire is fascinating and compelling and the playing of everyone involved is very good. It is just a shame that the artists have selected some pieces which are not ideally suitable to the instruments available.

Selma y Salaverde also leaves it mostly to the performers to choose the instruments but in some cases he indicates which instruments to use. The Canzona X a 2 has the addition per fagotto solo and the canzonas Nos. 12 and 16 - not recorded here - are for "violin and bass". Again the question is whether these indications are prescriptive. In the case of Selma y Salaverde the fact that he was a professional bassoonist should be reckoned with. It leads to the assumption that the bass parts are preferably to be played on the bassoon (dulcian). But La Reverencia doesn't include a bassoon; the bass parts are performed on the viola da gamba, for instance the Fantasía Basso solo. The Canzona X a 2 I already referred to is played here by theorbo and harpsichord. In some pieces we also hear percussion. In the Canzona VI it is hardly audible but it is very present in the Corente II a 4 which closes the programme. It is true that a corrente is a dance but this is no dance music and therefore the participation of percussion seems groundless.

In this recording the basso continuo is also pretty lavishly scored although unfortunately the instruments involved in every single piece are not specified in the track-list. Andrés Alberto Gómes argues in favour of this practice in his liner-notes but these are so poorly translated into English that it is not easy to follow his line of argument. Anyway, in opposition to Gómes I don't believe that music for such a small scoring requires more than a couple of instruments in the basso continuo.

Again these issues don't prevent me from recommending this disc. The playing is excellent and Salaverde's music is of superior quality. It is hard to understand that his only book of instrumental pieces is not available complete on disc as yet. That is long overdue. For the time being this disc is an important and enjoyable addition to the discography.

(*) Despite the year of copyright this disc seems to have been released only last year.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Harmonia Lenis
La Reverencia
Les Timbres

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